If you missed Part 1, please go now and reread. It will be on the
The setup answers the following questions:
- Who are the main characters?
- Where does the story take place?
- When does the story take place?
- And the most important question of all: What is the story about?
To continue examining examples (um, can a preachy teacher say that? I don't think so) let’s take a look at Holes by Louis Sachar (edited, by the way, by my editor, Frances Foster).
The book opens like this:
There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large
lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.
There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled and dried up along with the lake, and the people who lived there.
During the summer the daytime temperature hovers around ninety-five degrees in the shade - if you can find any shade. There’s not much shade in a big dry lake.
Setting, setting, setting. Sachar jumps right into the story with the where.
The reader is immediately drawn into a “dry, flat wasteland.” The image of a “shriveled and dried up” lake that is “ninety-five degrees in the shade - if you can find any” is front and center in this setup.
The only trees are two old oaks on the eastern edge of the “lake” A hammock is stretched between the two trees, and a log cabin stands behind that.
The campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock. It belongs to the Warden. The Warden owns the shade.
Sachar is starting to hook us right here in the setup.
There is something not right about this camp.
The reader is beginning to suspect that this is not a pleasant summer camp.
One word: warden. There’s a warden at this camp. Not a counselor. Not a director. A warden.
The setup continues:
Out on the lake, rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers.
Holes dug by the campers?
Camp Green Lake does not sound like a summer camp that kids would want to go. It does, however, sound like a summer camp that kids would want to read about. Sachar has definitely hooked the reader.
So far, we know where the story takes place and we are getting a strong suspicion that this is not a realistic story. It already has a bit of a “tall tale” aura to it - with a dried up lake and scorpions and a warden and campers digging holes.
The second chapter begins on the third page:
The reader is probably asking: Why would anyone go to Camp Green Lake?
Most campers weren’t given a choice. Camp Green Lake is a camp for bad boys.
If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.
That was what some people thought.
Stanley Yelnats was given a choice. The judge said, “You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake.”
Stanley was from a poor family. He had never been to camp before.
Now we know that Camp Green Lake is a camp “for bad boys” and that the main character is Stanley Yelnats.
During the next few paragraphs, we learn that Stanley is on his way to Camp Green Lake because he was convicted of a crime. But we also learn:
Stanley was not a bad kid. He was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was all because of his no-good-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!
Sachar then goes on to explain the Yelnats family curse.
We know what Holes is about: A boy who has been sent to a camp for bad boys and who is the victim of a family curse.
But what about the when of the story?
This is one of those stories that doesn’t really need a specific when.
It is timeless. It could be current. It could be historical. It doesn’t really matter.
We are only five pages into the story - FIVE PAGES, PEOPLE! - and the setup is complete.
The reader is off and running.
Well done, Louis and Frances.